Food combining is anything BUT new. It first appeared in the Ayurvedic medicine of ancient India, becoming even more popular in the early 1900s after physician William Howard Hay coined his version of it the "Hay Diet."
Dr. Hay taught about the benefits of separating food into three groups: acid, alkaline and neutral. Acid foods and alkaline foods were never to be mixed. He believed that this method of eating would let the stomach maintain the correct acid/alkaline balance, therefore improving health and even potentially aiding in weight loss.
How does it work, exactly?
Like I mentioned above, food combining basically puts forth rules for which foods you can eat in combination with other foods. It works to shake up the traditional way we structure our meals, with the hypothesis being that by eating certain foods together and keeping others separated, our bodies will more easily digest and absorb them.
So, we tend to think of a typical dinner as meat and potatoes, right? Some kind of protein combined with a carbohydrate or starch. That could be a turkey sandwich for lunch, or having eggs, toast and bacon for breakfast. This is normal to most people, but when you're on a food combining diet, you should never eat protein and carbs together.
In a nutshell, followers of food combining believe that by eating the wrong foods together, digestion is impaired. This is mostly because by eating some faster-digesting foods along with slower ones, the slow foods create a kind of "traffic jam" in your digestive track, which can then lead to gut health issues.
Another belief is that different foods require different enzymes to be digested, and by eating foods that require opposite pH levels to be broken down, the acidity in our gut gets bumped out of whack. When this happens, none of our food can be digested properly, creating stomach issues and even weight gain.
I want to try it. Now what?
There are a few simple rules to follow that will help you structure your meals according to the food combining mentality:
- Protein (eggs, meat, seafood, dairy) should never be eaten with starchy foods (grains, rice, potatoes).
- Grains and starchy foods should be consumed with cooked, non-starchy vegetables (like leafy greens) only .
- Avoid fruits as much as possible, with the exception of sour or low-sugar fruits. Dried fruit, along with nuts and seeds, should only be eaten with raw vegetables.
- Alcohol is permitted on this diet, but with restrictions. Red and white wines are considered proteins and should only be consumed with other proteins. Beer is considered a starch, so only consume it with other starches or cooked veggies.
- Sugar and processed foods should be avoided when possible
- Neutral foods like dark chocolate, almond milk, egg yolks, butter and oil can be consumed at any time.
- If you DO consume sugary fruits, you should do it on an empty stomach and at least 20 minutes before a meal.
Is there science behind this?
Honestly, not really. Most studies haven't shown significant weight gain/loss after the trial period was over when comparing the food combining diet with a regular one. If anything, some people find that they lose weight when trying this diet simply because they're eating more whole foods rather than processed ones. That said, there are some instances where eating certain foods together -- rather than separating them -- can be very beneficial for the body.
Vitamin C makes some forms of iron more absorbable, so eating citrus fruit with sources of plant-based iron (spinach, beans) can be great for your body.
Certain compounds in red, orange or green vegetables (like carrots) have been found to support a decreased risk of certain cancers, heart disease and vision problems. But, these "carotenoids" are more easily absorbed when eaten with some kind of fat -- full-fat salad dressing, olive oil, etc.